News in Brief: Week of June 23-27

June 29, 2014 08:45 pm News Staff

This roundup includes the following news briefs:

CDC Updates Surveillance Data on West Nile Virus

In the June 20 issue( of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, West Nile virus (WNV) was highlighted as the leading cause of domestically acquired arboviral disease in the United States. The report summarized surveillance data reported last year to the CDC for WNV and other nationally notifiable arboviruses, excluding dengue.

[News in Brief]

Forty-seven states and the District of Columbia reported 2,469 cases of WNV disease last year. Of these, 1,267 (51 percent) were classified as WNV neuroinvasive disease, for a national incidence of 0.4 per 100,000 population. After WNV, the next most commonly reported cause of arboviral disease was La Crosse virus (85 cases), followed by Jamestown Canyon virus (22 cases), Powassan virus (15 cases), and eastern equine encephalitis virus (eight cases).

"Tips From Former Smokers" Ads Continue This Summer

Starting July 7, The CDC will launch the next set of ads included as part of its hard-hitting "Tips From Former Smokers"( campaign, according to a press release( The ads will run on television, radio, billboards, online, in theaters, and in magazines and newspapers for nine weeks. The Tips campaign started in 2012 and claims to have helped hundreds of thousands of smokers quit.

"These new ads are powerful. They highlight illnesses and suffering caused by smoking that people don't commonly associate with cigarette use," said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., in the release. "Smokers have told us these ads help them quit by showing what it's like to live every day with disability and disfigurement from smoking."

Tips ads that ran earlier this year (also during a nine-week run) generated more than 100,000 additional calls to 800-QUIT-NOW [784-8669]. On average, weekly quitline call totals were up 80 percent while the ads were on the air compared to the week before they began running. Preliminary estimates also indicate there were nearly 650,000 unique visitors to the Tips website during those nine weeks.

CMS Fraud Prevention System Targets Improper Medicare Billing

CMS has announced( that its fraud prevention system identified and prevented more than $210 million in improper Medicare fee-for-service payments. The agency took action against 938 providers and suppliers, according to a report sent to Congress.

According to a June 25 CMS press release(, the program, now in its second year, is a component of the anti-fraud strategy that has led to a record $19.2 billion in fraud recoveries during the past five years. The system uses predictive algorithms to analyze billing patterns against every Medicare fee-for-service claim.

The system also uses other data sources, including compromised Medicare ID numbers and complaints made via 800-MEDICARE [633-4227].

CMS plans to expand the fraud prevention system to target areas of waste and abuse. The system is now capable of stopping payment of improper claims without human intervention by sending a denial message to the claims payment system, and the agency has pilot projects underway to evaluating expanding the program to provide waste, fraud and abuse leads to Medicare administrative contractors for early intervention.

CMS Launches "From Coverage to Care" Initiative

Are patients peppering you with questions about their newly acquired health insurance?

Help has arrived in the form of a recently launched CMS initiative dubbed "From Coverage to Care"( that aims to help answer questions newly insured consumers have about their coverage.

"Helping to ensure that new health care consumers know about the benefits available through their coverage, and how to use it appropriately to obtain primary care and preventive services, is essential to improving the health of the nation and reducing health care costs," said Cara James, M.D., director of the CMS Office of Minority Health, in a June 16 press release(

HHS Reports $800,000 HIPAA Settlement

In a June 23 news release(, HHS revealed that a large health system serving patients in northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio had agreed to an $800,000 settlement involving potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy rule.

The settlement stemmed from an incident that occurred in June 2009 in which employees of the health system left 71 cardboard boxes containing patient records accessible and unattended in the driveway of a retiring physician's home.

A government official noted in the release that it was not unusual for the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR), in its HIPAA enforcement role, to receive complaints of patient records "discarded or transferred in a manner that puts patient information at risk."

Physicians interested in learning more about how to properly dispose of patients' protected health information can consult a list of frequently asked questions( available from the OCR.

OCR Submits Required Security Breach Report

HHS' Office for Civil Rights (OCR) recently submitted a report to Congress( regarding breaches of unsecured protected health information during 2011 and 2012. Such reports are required by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act.

The report concluded that for the period evaluated, a total of 47,357 breach reports were made, affecting more than 15 million individuals. Types of security breaches include hacking/information technology incidents, improper disposal, loss, theft and unauthorized access/disclosure. The OCR reports theft as one of the top breach risks that affect the most individuals.

A searchable list of breaches( involving 500 or more people is available on the OCR website.

HHS Report Breaks Down Consumers' Health Plan Choices

A new report released by HHS( indicates that people who selected silver health insurance plans, the most popular type in the federally facilitated marketplace, paid an average premium of $69 per month with tax credits.

Also in the federal marketplace, 69 percent of enrollees who selected marketplace plans with tax credits had premiums of $100 a month or less. A total of 46 percent paid $50 a month or less after tax credits. Across all plan types, the average monthly premium cost dropped from $346 before tax credits to $82 after tax credits.

On average, consumers could choose from five health plan issuers per rating area and 47 marketplace plans, excluding catastrophic plans. Overall, 82 percent of people eligible to purchase a qualified health plan could choose from three or more health insurers, and 96 percent could choose from two or more.